Celebrating Black History Month: 5 African-American Pioneers in Health and Science
February 24, 2021
In honor of Black History Month, we want to highlight the achievements and advancements of African-American pioneers in health and science. Extraordinary trailblazers have achieved amazing milestones. Despite barriers standing before them, these individuals fought for change and made enormous advancements for humanity as well as health and science. In many instances, they paved the way for the techniques and methods in science we continue using today.
The following people are only some of the Black Americans whose achievements and sacrifices built the societal and scientific breakthroughs our medical community and country, and the world, continue to rely on today.
Dr. Daniel Hale Williams
In 1884 after apprenticing with a surgeon, Dr. Daniel Hale Williams earned a medical degree and started working in Chicago. Due to discrimination, Black doctors were barred from working on most hospital’s staff. Undeterred, Dr. Williams opened the nation’s first Black-owned, interracial hospital. Later, he became the first Black physician to be admitted to the American College of Surgeons.
Dr. James McCune Smith
James McCune Smith was born into slavery in New York City in 1813. As he got older, he decided he wanted to become a doctor. Denied admission to American colleges because he was Black, Smith got into the University of Glasgow in Scotland. After finishing school and getting his bachelor’s, master’s, and medical degrees, Smith returned to New York City in 1837. He became the first African-American doctor to open his own medical practice in the United States.
Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler
In 1864, Rebecca Lee Crumpler graduated from the New England Female Medical College. She became the first Black female physician in the United States. She paved the way for other physicians that wanted to follow in her footsteps. After receiving her degree, Dr. Crumpler opened her own practice in Boston.
In 1951, Henrietta Lacks was diagnosed with cervical cancer at John Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore and underwent radium treatments. Her cervical cell samples were taken for research. When it was found her cells did not die, unlike other cancer cells, her cells became widely used throughout the world in research up to the present day. The cells, now known as HeLa Cells, were used in the development of the polio vaccine, cancer research, AIDs research and many more medical studies. Her cells have resulted in saving countless lives.
Dr. Mae Jemison
Dr. Mae Jemison made history in 1992 as the first Black woman astronaut to go into space. Jemison is also a trained physician. She has dedicated her life to improving global health and focuses on bringing to light the disparities in healthcare quality in the United States.
All of these pioneers paved the way for those that came after them. They fought hard to achieve their dreams and to help others. Their legacy is kept alive by sharing their stories with the world.